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Kermit Washington played 10 years in the NBA and was an All-Star during the 1979-80 season. He put together a solid professional career, but he’s widely known for one of the most brutal punches thrown in league history.

Washington decked former Houston Rockets star Rudy Tomjanovich at midcourt during an altercation between Washington’s Los Angeles Lakers and the Rockets on Dec. 9, 1977. As Tomjanovich rushed in to help break up the melee, Washington threw a devastating punch, fracturing Tomjanovich’s face and ending his season. Two weeks after the incident, the Lakers traded Washington to the Boston Celtics. When Washington came to town, Cedric Maxwell slept with one eye open.

Kermit Washington’s punch: ‘The most malicious thing I’ve ever seen in basketball’

The game between the Lakers and Rockets had gotten chippy after an earlier incident involving Washington and Rockets center Kevin Kunnert. According to The Associated Press, Washington’s punch at Tomjanovich wasn’t the first he threw in the game.

The game story by the AP read: The muscular Washington pummeled Houston center Kevin Kunnert early in the third period of the game at Los Angeles. 

Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had been slapped with a record-breaking fine and broke his hand after punching rookie Kent Benson in the season opener, also tried to play peacemaker.

“I tried to get between Kermit and Kunnert and stop it before it really got started,” he said then.  

Washington’s punch hit Tomhanovich square in the face, cutting him from the nostril to the lip and leaving him in a pool of blood. Tomjanovich missed the remainder of the season. Washington was fined $10,000 and suspended for 60 games.

After the game, Rockets coach Tom Nissalke described Washington’s act as “the most malicious thing I’ve ever seen in basketball.

“It was a damned sucker punch. Washington has no guts. If he’s not out for the year, it’s a disgrace.” 

Cedric Maxwell admitted he was intimidated by Washington when he came to play for the Celtics


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Shortly after the incident, the Lakers traded Washington to the Boston Celtics in a trade for Charlie Scott. Cedric Maxwell, then a rookie out of UNC Charlotte, recalled how he felt when Washington came to Boston.

“Kermit Washington was a veteran power forward who joined us after throwing one of the most famous punches in NBA history,” Maxwell wrote in his book If These Walls Could Talk. “Rudy T broke like everything in his face, and Washington was suspended for the rest of the season.

“When I met him, I was petrified. After seeing the video, I wanted no part of him. I figured he must be a maniac.”

Maxwell was wrong.

“It couldn’t have been further from the truth,” Maxwell recalled. He could not have been nicer. Even as he dealt with death threats, he taught me so much about the game. Washington was Karl “The Mailman” Malone before Malone existed.”

Washington’s time in Boston was short-lived. He played just 32 games for the Celtics. Boston traded him to the San Diego Clippers before the start of the 1978-79 season.

In 2016, Washington was indicted for embezzling money in a charity scheme. He was sentenced to six years in federal prison for charity fraud and released in 2022.